Departing from the longstanding American policy in the Middle East on Wednesday, Bush declared that Israel could keep at least some illegal settlements in the West Bank.

He added that Palestinian refugees had no right to return to their native hometowns and villages in Israel. 
 
Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat labelled Bush’s statements a "new Balfour Declaration", alluding to the infamous British declaration of 1917, which gave Palestine to Zionist Jews as a national homeland.
 
"This is another Balfour Declaration. It will blow up the peace process from its foundation. It will tear up all peace efforts to smithereens," Arafat told reporters in Ram Allah on Thursday.

PM reaction

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya condemned the statements as "illegal, unlawful and inconsistent with international law. 

"This is like someone giving a part of Texas to the Chinese," said a sombre and grim-faced Quraya.
 
The Palestinian Prime Minister, whose popularity has dwindled very much of late, said the Palestinian people would never ever accept Bush’s statements.
 
"He [Bush] is the first President who has legitimised the settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. We reject these statements, we can't accept them."

Bin Ladin II

Palestinians say Bush and Sharon
cannot bring peace to region

Other Palestinian officials have been more outspoken in expressing their outrage and indignation at Bush’s remarks.
 
"We don’t have only one Bin Ladin, we have two: Usama bin Ladin and George Bush," said Abd Allah Abd Allah, deputy foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, in an interview with Aljazeera.net.
 
He argued that Bush was introducing "destructive and blind religious extremism" into American policy in the Middle East.
 
"I don’t believe he said what he said because of election considerations. Bush is an avowed Christian Zionist and his ideas and beliefs can be considered as the Christian equivalent of bin Ladin’s ideas."
 
Few choices
 
Notwithstanding the angry reactions, it is clear that the PA ability to put up an effective and sustained resistance to the most radical alteration of US Middle East policy since 1967 is very limited.
 
Indeed, the Arab world, whose leaders face a chronic legitimacy crisis at home and mounting pressures for reform from the United States, is in a state of disarray. 

Palestinian Authority unlikely to
affect US foreign policy

President Bush himself, and certainly his even more conservative allies, seem to realise this dismal state of affairs.
 
Bush's statements came less than 24 hours after his meeting with visiting Egyptian President Husni Mubarak and only a few days before his scheduled meeting with King Abd Allah of Jordan.
 
This, according to Abd al-Sattar Kasim, professor of political science at the National University of Nablus, underscores and embodies the Bush administration’s utter contempt for Arab leaders.
 
"Unfortunately, these leaders have lost all sense of personal or national dignity. They act as submissive servants of their American master … they are like dogs gasping after a dry bone."

No authority

Kasim ridiculed the Palestinian Authority, comparing it with "Alice in wonderland."
 
"The PA is a burden on the Palestinian people, not on Israel. It should be terminated immediately in order to make the occupation appear as it really is."

Kasim refused to consider Bush's statements as a "new development", arguing that all that Bush did was to switch from "de facto to de jure". 

Scrap the PA

"I think that Bush's statements are a clear vindication of the resistance choice ... freedom is earned not given on a silver platter"

Khalid Mashal,
top Hamas official 

Muawiya al-Masri, a Palestinian lawmaker representing the northern West Bank city of Nablus, said that the only effective response to Bush's assurances to Israel was the "elimination and dismantlement of the PA".

"Look, why should we continue deceiving ourselves? The PA doesn’t exist in reality. Some people claim the PA controls 20 square metres outside Arafat's office in Ram Allah, but this is not true.
 
"Ram Allah is the only place in the West Bank where Israeli forces roam the streets using jeeps, not tanks as is the case elsewhere, which means the Zionists feel more at home in Ram Allah than in other parts of the occupied territories."

And like Kasim, al-Masri said that it would be futile and self-defeating to count on the Arab governments.
 
"The Arab regimes are part of the problem, actually they are the problem. On the one hand, they are afraid to lose power because of simmering discontent at home, and on the other they are constantly bullied by the Americans to be more loyal slaves."

Vindicating resistance?
 
For their part, Palestinian Islamists reacted to Bush’s statements by reasserting the "resistance choice". 

"I think that Bush's statements are a clear vindication of the resistance choice," said top Hamas official Khalid Mashal during a television interview last night.
 
Mashal said the Palestinians ought to respond to "Bush's provocations" which he also called a new Balfour Declaration by cementing their national unity behind the resistance.
 
"Freedom is earned, not given on a silver platter," he said.